For the second straight season, the Pittsburgh Steelers will not make the playoffs. They are reeling at 5-9 after six straight losses, quarterback Kordell Stewart has been relegated to his old multi-purpose "Slash" role and there has been mounting speculation that Coach Bill Cowher might not be back to complete a contract that runs out in 2002.
On Monday, Cowher again tried to end the speculation, though it took him several news conferences to get the point across. The second session was prompted by his wife, Kaye, who told him he hadn't really answered reporters' questions in his first meeting with the media Monday when he was asked if he was a candidate for the coaching job at North Carolina State.
"Let me make this perfectly clear," Cowher said at a hastily called second session with reporters. "I am not interested in N.C. State. I apologize for being vague, but it has gotten kind of old to keep answering these Bill Cowher questions."
Cowher said he had no interest in any other coaching jobs and that he would like to get the Steelers back on the same track that produced playoff appearances in his first six seasons, as well as an AFC championship and Super Bowl trip.
"My interest is in staying right here and getting this thing turned around," he said. "It really is."
Though Cowher finally moved Stewart back to wide receiver three weeks ago after the five-year veteran continued to make huge blunders in the passing game, the Steelers have not given up hope that Stewart can work his way out of his problems next year with an intense offseason and preseason.
Part of Stewart's problem is a dreadful offensive line plagued by injuries. The Steelers' overall decline has as much to do with losing so many fine free agent players over the last half-dozen years because of free agency and salary-cap constrictions.
"Taking him out of there was probably the best thing for him," owner Dan Rooney said of Stewart. "He had just become psyched out here. He was getting booed, but he wasn't the first Steeler quarterback to get that treatment. They booed Jim Finks and they booed Terry Bradshaw. The only guy they didn't boo was Bobby Layne, because he would have gone after them in the stands."
Rooney still thinks Stewart has great talent and, with the increasing emphasis on mobile quarterbacks, believes he ought to get another shot at playing the position. If it doesn't work out, he also said he would have no problem if Stewart stayed with the team as a wide receiver, even if that long-term $27 million deal he signed last year was based on him playing quarterback.
"He wouldn't be the highest-paid receiver in the league anyway," Rooney said. "We don't do things that way around here. We live by our obligations."
Houston Reduces Rates
The Houston expansion franchise already has started selling personal seat licenses for its new stadium, but at lower prices than most NFL teams using that method to help finance the facility.
Around 41,000 of the stadium's 69,500 seats will be sold with PSLs, and the prices will range from $600 to $3,000 for the right to purchase season tickets for those seats at a stadium that will have a retractable domed roof.
About 80 percent of the seats in Cleveland's new stadium and about 85 percent of the seats in Nashville's Adelphia Coliseum were subject to licenses. The Steelers have already sold 50,000 PSLs for their new 64,000-seat stadium.
New owner Robert McNair wants to raise $50 million with the PSL sale to help pay for a $310 million stadium. Season-ticket prices also will range from $20 to $74.50 per game, with 7,500 club seats priced between $1,575 and $2,575 and 164 luxury suites between $75,000 and $200,000.
Green Missed Pick at History
Darrell Green didn't pick off any of Peyton Manning's passes on Sunday, missing out on what would have been an NFL first--a defensive back intercepting both a father and a son. Green had an interception against Manning's father, Archie, when Archie was finishing out his career in 1984 with the Minnesota Vikings.
Green has now played against three father-son combinations over his illustrious career. He's been on the same playing field with Dallas running back Tony Dorsett and his son, Anthony, a cornerback now with Tennessee, and Ron Springs, a Cowboys running back, and his son, Shawn Springs, a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks.
Detroit running back Johnnie Morton was asked about being covered by Green recently and said "he told me he was about to turn 40. No way. When you're running against a 40-year-old man, you expect to be pulling away from him."
Wide receiver Joey Galloway's return to the Seahawks hasn't exactly been a great tonic for erratic starting quarterback Jon Kitna. Galloway missed the first seven games in a holdout, but without him, Kitna had a 94.5 passing rating with 12 touchdown passes and four interceptions. Since Galloway's return, he's had a 61.7 rating, with nine scoring throws and five interceptions.
"Jon has forced some throws to Joey in an effort to get him the ball and his numbers have suffered," Coach Mike Holmgren said. "Had Joey come in when he was supposed to, these things would have been addressed much earlier."
Payton Leads Century Vote
The late Walter Payton still leads in fan voting on NFL.com for player of the century, with 8,506 votes through last week. He was followed by Joe Montana 7,750, Jim Brown 3,425, John Elway 3,410 and Dan Marino 2,848. John Unitas, considered by many the greatest quarterback of all, was 10th on the list, at 1,278.
Meanwhile, Brown is the only NFL player to make the final four of ESPN's athlete of the century series. He joins Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth, with Nos. 3 and 4 to be announced at 10 p.m. Friday on ESPN and Nos. 1 and 2 at 5 p.m. Sunday on ABC.
Video Assistance to Assistants
The NFL Coaches Association has a new videotape out directed at young players on how to play quarterback featuring Peyton Manning and Drew Bledsoe. Proceeds from the tape will benefit the association that represents league assistant coaches in an effort to improve benefits and pension plans. . . .
Carolina played last week without John Kasay, the team's place kicker since Day One five years ago. He suffered torn knee ligaments the week before and was lost for the season after scoring 99 points, third best in the NFC. He had kicked in 77 games with 532 points before being replaced by Richie Cunningham.